03. Bridge: Is Warren Buffet today’s Ely Culbertson?

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Unlikely as it sounds, Warren Buffett is the nearest thing we’ve got to Culbertson–the only major bridge player I know of that the general public identifies with bridge. Even though Warren Buffett is that rarity–a billionaire looked upon with some affection–and has the prestige, money and media access to step up and lead a renaissance in bridge.

What he doesn’t have is that exploitative ego-driven personality needed to do for bridge what Culbertson did. Ely Culbertson transformed himself into a celebrity bridge player in the 20s by winning tournaments and as what we would call today a “guerilla marketer.” Anything for publicity!

Still–I’m always surprised when even people who don’t play bridge seem to know that Buffett does. Some even know he plays bridge with Bill Gates. It seems to be the result of a couple major TV shows (60 Minutes, Sunday Morning) doing a feature on Buffett and his bridge game. And it’s a point the ACBL makes in publicity they do–the connection between big-time moguls like Buffett and Gates with bridge.

Think–if he would but lend his name (and financial support if he sees fit) to, say, an organization of  Buffett’s Bridge Boosters?  Oh, what a difference he could make!  A collection of volunteers from both worlds of bridge–serious and sociable–hundreds of them perhaps with a website, to become an organization that is a combination of high school sports boosters and friends of the library.

Ely wass driven by the profit motive–he wanted to get rich out of bridge. Buffett is already rich–could do it for his love of the game.  I wish he’d listen to me and put himself in the hands of a present-day “guerilla marketer” to promote bridge the way Ely did back in the 20s — into a mass fad, instead of just a game for elite competitive players.

Buffett’s Bridge Boosters could provide that missing “Ely factor” that made  bridge the fad it was from the 20s-60s, providing the PR and publicity that the establishment’s ACBL seemingly cannot or is unwilling to do.

Buffett has  in the past “endowed” two bridge-promoting projects with his name and financial support, Bridge in Schools and the Buffet Cup Bridge Tournament.  Bridge in Schools ended late last year (2010) according to this quote from a Wall Street Journal story about Mr. Buffett.

” “In 2005, Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates . . . pledged a million dollars to
promote bridge in schools. The nonprofit effort, headed by Osberg, never gained
traction and closed shop earlier this year.”

The Buffett Bridge Cup, was established in 2006 and patterned after the Ryder Golf Cup. It is a biennial tournament (as the Ryder Cup is), alternates between Britain and the United States, and is even scheduled so that it comes just prior to the Ryder Cup every other year.  [http://www.buffettcup.com/]

More about the Buffett Bridge Cup Tournament in #4.


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